Hundreds of Steelworkers laid off after projects were outsourced to subsidized foreign competitors.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (D) is slated to tour the MRP Steel Fabricators and Harris Structural Steel facilities in South Plainfield, N.J. on Wednesday. Booker's visit comes at an important time, as the livelihoods of hundreds of steelworkers at the facilities are at-risk because government officials opted to outsource work to foreign companies on major projects.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey awarded the contract for the structural steel used to raise the Bayonne Bridge to an Italian firm. In doing so, the Port Authority bypassed competitive bids from MRP and Harris Steel — despite the fact that both are a 45 minute drive from the bridge. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, meanwhile, outsourced work on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge upper deck replacement project to two state-owned Chinese companies.
As a result, MRP laid off 25 workers; Harris Steel currently is shutdown. These workers are now among those calling for the passage of a five-bill package of Buy America legislation in New Jersey to level the playing field for U.S. manufacturers and workers.
MRP steelworker Gregorio Leon explains:
New Jersey must put the workers who live here, pay taxes here, and are raising their families here first when making these decisions. Thanks to the Port Authority’s decision to ship our work overseas, my coworkers and I don’t know where our next paycheck will come from or when. Their decision is a slap in the face of every hardworking American who has poured their pride into rebuilding our economy.
State Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D), who introduced the package, will join Booker at MRP and Harris Steel on Wednesday, where workers will showcase the potential of American manufacturing and shine the spotlight on the importance of Buy America. United Steelworkers (USW) District 4 Director John Shinn called Booker “a true champion of working people — protecting good jobs by fighting for fair trade, promoting Buy America laws and pushing for modernization of our infrastructure.”
The support of legislators like Booker and Sweeney is vital. Half of the world’s top 46 top steel companies are state-owned and heavily subsidized, which allows them to undercut fair market prices. U.S. steel manufacturers and workers filed 40 antidumping and countervailing duty petitions in 2013 and the first two months of 2014 seeking relief, including the recent oil country tubular goods case.
But in order to win these cases, you must prove that harm has been done. That means steelmakers and workers must lose before they can win. As USW President Leo Gerard testified before the Senate Finance Committee:
Lost profits, lost jobs, closed factories, hollowed out communities – that is the price the trade laws demand to show sufficient injury to provide relief. In the year or more it takes to bring a trade case and obtain relief, foreign companies can continue to flood the market. By the time that relief may be provided, the industry is often a shadow of its former self, too many workers have lost their jobs and their families and the communities in which they live have paid a heavy, and often irrevocable, price.
The Buy America package seeks to change that. Introduced by Sweeney and cosponsored by Republican Senator Kevin J O’Toole, the bills would:
- Require vendors contracting with state agencies, including state colleges, to purchase manufactured goods in the United States to fulfill their contracts. Businesses that contract with the state or receive economic development assistance must also disclose job outsourcing information;
- Require the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission to use certain products manufactured in the United States;
- Require the Delaware River and Bay Authority to use certain products manufactured in the United States;
- Require Delaware River Port Authority to use certain products manufactured in U.S.; and
- Require the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to use certain products manufactured in United States.
The passage of the bills should be a no-brainer, according to supporters like Gerard.
“American workers produce the highest-quality, safest products in the world,” Gerard said. “American steelmakers and steelworkers have the drive, the know-how, and more than enough capacity to supply these projects with the best steel in the world made at the safest and most environmentally-responsible plants in the world."